Colonel James A. Donovan estimated the cost of the Vietnam air war alone, to the end of 1968, at over $7 billion for bombs dropped and aircraft lost, with more than half of the sum being spent on bombing North Vietnam from early 1965 to late 1968. Like the current bombing of Middle Eastern countries by the US, the bombing in South Vietnam was “the principal cause of civilian casualties and the “generation” of refugees.” Author Telford Taylor was US Chief Counsel at the Nuremburg Trials after WWII, and compares the aggressive war of the US in Vietnam with German aggressive war against Poland in 1939.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
The Consequences of Military Experimentation
“In a recent television address on the war in Southeast Asia, President Nixon coined the phrase “pitiful, helpless, giant,” and hotly denied that the United States, under his leadership, would play such a part. Pitiful and helpless the nation is not, but the course of events under the last three Presidents raises painful doubts whether our conduct as a nation may not have been arrogant and blind – or at least one-eyed, seeing only in one direction, and unable to perceive the lessons of the past or the trends of the present.
If an effort be made to look beneath the orders and operations and speeches and press releases for some clues to understanding the Vietnam debacle, then one must contemplate Vietnam not in isolation but in the context of the times and many other failures and dangers that are unsettling the United States today.
Most of them, I believe, can be gathered under the expression of “under-maintenance,” caused by our unwillingness, despite enormous material means, to invest the time, thought and resources necessary to preserve the foundations and basic services of society.
Attention is given to ever taller skyscrapers, supersonic airliners and moon landings, while we pollute the air and water and allow education, transportation, housing and health to degenerate.
Despite the billions of dollars we have spent on the Vietnam War and the incredible weight of explosives dropped on that unhappy land, our failure there is largely due to “under-maintenance.” The point is implicit in the title of Jonathan Schell’s book – “The Military Half” – as explained in a concluding passage:
“Many optimistic Americans, including reporters as well as military men civilian officials, tended to set off the destruction caused by the military effort against the construction resulting from the civil-affairs effort, seeing the two results as separate but balanced “sides” of the war; and, looking at our commitment of men and materials, they were often favorably impressed with the size of the construction effort, almost as though it was being carried out in one country while the military effort was being carried out in another.
But, of course, the two programs were being carried out in the same provinces and the same villages, and the people who received the allotments of rice were the same people whose villages had been destroyed by bombs . . . But because along with the destruction of villages, American military operations brought death to many civilians, American civil-affairs workers, no matter how well-intentioned they might be, no matter how well-supplied they might someday become, could never, from the point of view of the villagers, “balance” the sufferings caused by the military, or undo what they had done, which was often absolute and irreversible.
Once [the Army] was in charge, the worst aspects of the military system surfaced, then dominated the conduct of operations. Combat command is the surest road to promotion, and the Army and Air Force were only too glad to find a new theater for military experimentation.
As Colonel Donovan describes the professional consequences:
“The highly-trained career officers of the army and the other services have found the Vietnam [War] a frustrating but fascinating challenge. The very size and scope of the American military force has also generated unceasing pressures to satisfy such military demands as trying out new weapons and using the war as a military testing ground and laboratory. Helicopter assault theories, air mobile operations concepts, new helicopter types, new weapons and organizations, and counterinsurgency tactics were all ready for trial by the Army in Vietnam.
It was not a life-or-death war in defense of the United States, but rather a remote and limited conflict where training and equipment could be teste and combat experience renewed or attained by professionals . . .”
(Nuremburg and Vietnam: an American Tragedy, Telford Taylor, Quadrangle Books, 1970, excerpts, pp. 197-201)